Since the population of L.W. Beecher School is just slightly over 90% African American, it seems natural to me that the content of the first eight units I have written and taught has focused, at least in part, on African American culture and history, through the use of literature, particularly poetry. Not only do the lessons in these units serve to increase pupils' intellectual understanding of their African American heritage, but hopefully they also increase their self-awareness and help to develop a more positive self-esteem. However, the emergence of two factors has prompted me to change the focus of this year's unit.
First, there has been a slow but growing number of Latino/Hispanic students enrolled in my classroom. Though most were born in the United States, some have spent most of their lives in Puerto Rico or another country whose predominant culture is a blending of Native Indian, Spanish, and /or African roots. Second, through other educational projects, I have seen and read about the positive effects which multicultural education has had upon all students. As a result, this year's unit will use children's literature as a means of increasing pupil awareness, understanding, and appreciation of Hispanic/Latino culture and history, along with the roles various Latino men and women have played in the historical development of the United States. As is the case when African American history and culture are the focus of study, all pupils, no matter what their racial or ethnic background, should reap the benefits of these proposed educational experiences.
Presently, I am teaching a third grade classroom of twenty-six pupils, three Latino/Hispanic and twenty-three African Americans. They range in age from those who recently have turned eight to some who are almost ten. They come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and home situations. Their academic ability and the level of their general knowledge also vary considerably. While some qualify for the city's Talented and Gifted Program, generally their basic academic skill level is below average. Most have potential well beyond their present level of performance. Some are members of families with multiple problems. Few of their lives are without difficulties. At this stage of their educational life, most enjoy school but not just for the academics. Many, though not all, parents or guardians are supportive of school. Most want to be helpful but are not sure of the best way to go about it. Often the struggles of everyday life interfere with their efforts.
Though the activities of this unit are written with this type of classroom in mind, the general approach and content easily could be adapted to pupils in other settings and at higher grade levels. In fact, a number of suggested selections are excerpts from stories whose content level ranges as high as that of an adult.